The decision to approve a parking lot for the Belly-Up Bar, with conditions attached, was approved at last week's council meeting. As expected, the decision has not been a popular one with the local residents. I understand that they want a peaceful neighbourhood, and they are concerned that they may be losing this. But I would hope that they would have an appreciation for my perspective, which is that I have to vote according to the legal facts of the situation, as well as the actual evidence that we have.
My vote was based on the following facts:
First, the land in question is zoned commercial, C-2, and has been for many years. The previous council was mis-informed by a member of the city administrative staff, when we were told that it was zoned residential, R-5. Because it is zoned for commercial use, council has no discretion over this decision, and it should never have come to council for a vote. People may be confused, because there was a house on the land, but residential housing has been built on land zoned commercial. Before we lived in our current house, Andrea and I lived in a little house on 13th Street East that was (and is) in a similar situation - the whole block is zoned commercial, but there are residences along the north side of the street, businesses along the south side, although when we first lived there a couple of homes were built in between the businesses on the south side of the street - closer to 6th Avenue East, that is still the case. If you live adjacent to commercial development, this may well be your situation.
Second, the lot in question has not been used as a parking lot, so I'm not sure why residents are so positive that allowing it to be used for parking, especially with the sound and security accommodations that have been proposed by Mr. Tesar, will lead to the dire consequences that they are predicting. A restaurant and lounge are located directly across the street, with a parking lot in the rear, and this doesn't seem to be a problem for residents. To not allow it in this case would be discriminatory.
Third, our requirement of commercial licensees is that their establishment has adequate parking for patrons - Mr. Tesar is trying to comply with this requirement, and is willing to meet additional conditions that other businesses owners have not had to, in an effort to allay the residents' concerns. There doesn't seem to be much appetite from the residents to meet him half-way, which is unfortunate. Quotes from residents indicating that they hope to drive the business to failure indicates that they aren't even interested in looking for a win-win situation.
The arguments that have been made since this decision are based on emotion, not on providing additional factual information. I can't speak for any other member of council, but I have made it my practice of voting according to the facts, not based on emotion, threats, insults, or personal aspersions on my character, none of which help to find solutions.
The last time this came to council, one of my fellow councillors accurately pointed out that we hadn't solved the problem, and it would continue to drag on, which it has. My suggestion at that time was that the city should try to work with Mr. Tesar to find an alternate solution. Wouldn't it be great if we could get someone with his obvious business talents to set up downtown, which desperately needs more development to get people there in the evenings, after the offices have closed and the daytime occupants have left. This would be moving toward a solution that would benefit all parties, plus the city as a whole.
We also need to develop plans for dealing with future potential conflicts, since, as I've indicated, similar residential areas are zoned for commercial use. In the meantime, we need to focus more on finding creative solutions and compromises, not on delaying decisions or making them based on emotions and personalities - that only causes long-term pain, as we are seeing now.
And finally, as a council, let's learn to listen to each other respectfully, and not act as though disagreement is to be taken as an opportunity for questioning each others' commitment, capability, or understanding of the job. Those of us at the table should understand better than anyone how difficult it is to make decisions on these matters, and should appreciate that we're each, in our own individual way, trying to do our best for the city.
"Hating people is like burning down your house to get rid of a rat." - Harry Emerson Fosdick